City hymn

By Patrick T. Reardon

Hymn the sewer line.

Hymn the rhythm.

Hymn mown grass,

dawn-sun broken glass,

ash tray brass,

my scar, the rusted-nail fall.

Hymn the sink hole.

Hymn girder.

Hymn cinder alley,

maggot alley,

the basketball-rimmed garage.

Hymn chaotic bloomed colors along the garbage fence.

The boy I am

studies in the concrete of my alley, 

large smooth stones,

and seeks in their curves 

answers to questions I don’t know to ask,

my inhale-exhale. 

Breath, breath, all is breath.

Hymn transaction, traction.

Hymn long division.

Hymn contrition.

Hymn lost and found,

the boy-brother seven-mile endurance

down the Lake Street el-track canal.

Hymn the crayons I melted

on the 5th grade radiator and

drew side views of Lincoln

as a conjurement.

Hymn the parquet floor, the open door,

the growl, the yowl, the pirouette, the give-and-go,

the vestibule mosaic, the bathroom tiles,

creosote planks, the silhouette Stations of the Cross,

butcher-shop six-point star.

Hymn sorting, shedding, shredding,

staying the course,

rubber-ball hockey in the snow alley,

computing my Lexon League batting average, .119.

Behind the Signboards facing Washington Boulevard, 

tall weeds, mush cardboard, jagged glass bottles, 

dogshit, a single discarded Playboy, charred —— 

impromptu boy battle, small rocks

finto the weeds, out to the sidewalk,

one off my boy’s forehead, a glance, a graze,

no matter, but,

turning toward older girls walking past,

a scream,

my sweat transubstantiated 

to blood mapping my face,

Rivers of the World.

Hymn Leamington Avenue. 

Hymn Granville Avenue.

Hymn Lindell Boulevard.

Hymn Mullholland Drive.

Hymn your own streets.

Hymn your own cities.

Hymn Saint Louis.

Hymn Chicago.

Hymn Calabasas.

Hymn Momence.

The boy

turns away

from lines of children shoes and underwear

on the family board,

a numbers graph, an organizational chart,

looks out

to the curve of the earth,

to the broken glass morning glint,

to dogshit alleys,

to street grid lines leading away,

leading to puzzle and more puzzle.

I breathe puzzlement.

I am at the map

and can follow West End east to the Loop

or Maypole west to California, to China,

to Russia, to Europe, to New York.

I am on the map and fly

to the edge of all that is

and back to the Bang.

Hymn curb trash:

twigs, a leaf,

a mud-thick mitten from winter,

a rosary crucifix unlinked.

Hymn links and unlinking.

Hymn clouds of incense.

I will go to the altar.

Hymn clouds of leaf-burn smoke.

Hymn seedlings.

Hymn street cleaning.

Hymn no parking,

for sale,

loading zone,

no dumping.

Hymn don’t walk.

Hymn electricity.

Hymn tree cover, plumbing, two-flats,

six-flats, courtyard buildings,

the bungalow belt, the forest preserve clearing,

lagoon scum, the dainty fox through the tombstones.

Hymn the asphalt street.

Hymn the gum, black on sidewalk concrete.

Hymn the elevated,

the elevator,

the elementary school,

the exit ramp.

Hymn photosynthesis.

Hymn sun soaking the red-brick wall,

my untranslatable scripture,

the word at the start and the end.

Patrick T. Reardon


This poem was originally published on The Write Launch on 9.1.19.

Written by : Patrick T. Reardon

For more than three decades Patrick T. Reardon was an urban affairs writer, a feature writer, a columnist, and an editor for the Chicago Tribune. In 2000 he was one of a team of 50 staff members who won a Pulitzer Prize for explanatory reporting. Now a freelance writer and poet, he has contributed chapters to several books and is the author of Faith Stripped to Its Essence. His website is

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